Beyond ‘trees are good’: Disservices, management costs, and tradeoffs in urban forestry

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Oct 04, 2020
Lara A. Roman, Tenley M. Conway, Theodore S. Eisenman, Andrew K. Koeser, Camilo Ordóñez Barona, Dexter H. Locke, G. Darrel Jenerette, Johan Östberg, and Jess Vogt



The provision of ecosystem services is a prominent rationale for urban greening, and there is a prevailing mantra that ‘trees are good’. However, understanding how urban trees contribute to sustainability must also consider disservices. In this perspective article, we discuss recent research on ecosystem disservices of urban trees, including infrastructure conflicts, health and safety impacts, aesthetic issues, and environmentally detrimental consequences, as well as management costs related to ecological disturbances and risk management. We also discuss tradeoffs regarding species selection and local conservation concerns, as well as the central role of human perception in the interpretation of ecosystem services and disservices, particularly the uncritical assertion that ‘everybody loves trees’. Urban forestry decision-making that fails to account for disservices can have unintended negative consequences for communities. Further research is needed regarding life cycle assessments, stakeholder decision-making, return-on-investment, and framings of services and disservices in urban forestry.

Article published in Ambio.

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